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The Cultural Map: A Tool for Development and Peacebuilding

Peace Possibilities
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In a new Peace Possibilities paper, Syrian researcher Hassan Abbas argues that the concept of the “cultural map” can be used as an important tool to bring citizens together, pave the ground for social cohesion and the realization of transitional justice, and contribute – through the active participation of civil society – to creating local and regional development programmes.

The paper presents the concept of the cultural map as a practical and cognitive instrument to improve the living conditions of people in their places of residence, based on their cultural resources. Cultural maps are constructed in three sequenced and interlinked stages: documentation, analysis, and activation.

The documentation stage entails the definition of the cultural resources available to the specific area whose map is to be constructed. The inventory can include both fixed and mobile resources as well as material and non-material ones. During the inventory process, a multi-track approach (formal, scientific, general, dialogue and interactive) is needed to provide the largest possible stock of information about these resources, their history, and their importance in the life of the community in which they are located.

The analysis phase focuses on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the resources that have been documented and highlighting the connections that link citizens to the most important resources. At this stage, focus group meetings are used to develop intervention plans. These meetings are more effective if the map-builders have already identified the intended direction for the activation phase.

In practice, the activation process begins with the development of an intervention plan based on the results of the analysis phase. It proceeds according to a particular goal-oriented process, which may be developmental or socio-political, in that it aspires to build "civil peace" in societies emerging from war.

Hassan Abbas considers that building civil peace can provide one of the fertile areas to activate the cultural map. Indeed, the process of building the map is itself a peacebuilding process as everyone, from all the sides to the conflict, works together on a project to document the resources of the space in which they live.

 

Photo: A model of a joint textile production common among many cultures in Syria, © Hassan Abbas.